News10NBC In-Depth: City construction job uncovers history buried for 140 years

Construction uncovers history in downtown Rochester

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Our investigative reporters go in-depth on a lot of stories.

Now we’re going in-depth and underground to uncover a story about an historic discovery downtown.

It happened when crews were digging up an area that has paved over history for at least 140 years.

The location is Aqueduct Street, a short run between Broad Street and East Main Street. The area is next to the Blue Cross Arena.

We know history lives here. The frozen sign says it’s the site of of Child’s Basin, a docking area off the Erie Canal in the 1800s.

Jonathan Child was the son-in-law of Nathaniel Rochester and the city’s first mayor.

But when crews started digging up Aqueduct Street they found “two unidentified cultural resources.”

A report commissioned by the city said one of them was the wall of the Child’s Basin. The report included maps from the 1830s showing the basin and maps from the 1880s showing it filled in.

“Like one of my questions was like ‘What are you guys finding down here? What’s down here?'” asked City Councilmember Willie Lightfoot, the chair of the City Council’s Parks and Public Works Committee.

This month, the city came to council and Lightfoot’s committee asking for more money to deal with what it called “undocumented underground structures.”

It’s the history the construction is uncovering.

Brean: “We’re in one of the most historic areas of the city right now.”
Lightfoot: “Yes, that pre-dates 1910.”

Brean: “Has the city made any decision on what should happen?”
Lightfoot: “No final decisions have been made by this administration yet. They still have to do a lot more work that has to happen here. But we’re going to be excited to hear about what’s been discovered and developed and what it is and having deeper conversations.”

The city budgeted $400,000 for the project. Two weeks ago it got approved for another $120,000 to deal with the history it’s finding.

The city just told me it paused the work when the wall was found, and it adjusted the size of the project.  

“The City acknowledged that this discovery would require changes to the street project work plan and immediately notified the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the finding,” wrote city spokesperson Carlet Clare. “The City has revised the street improvement project scope to minimize impact to the previously undocumented structure, including detailed documentation of the finding, select removal of the upper portion of the structure only as required to reconstruct the failing roadway infrastructure in compliance with modern standards, and infilling of voids to ensure public safety.”

The city told us the Aqueduct District Street Improvement project is on track to be substantially complete in Spring 2024.